Despite toilets in place, a quarter of rural population stuck to open defecation

New study on changes in open defecation in rural North India says pace of toilet construction increased under Swachh Bharat Mission, but there was also prevalence of coercion

By Rashmi Verma
Published: Thursday 10 January 2019

A new study, released on January 9, 2019, on the changes in open defecation in rural north India between 2014 and 2018 reveals that even though the pace of toilet construction increased in four years, almost a quarter of households with toilets continued to defecate in the open.

The study based across rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh shows that 23 per cent of people in rural areas (over the age of two) who have a toilet continued to defecate in the open in 2018.

The study, published by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE) and accountability initiative of the Centre for Policy Research, says that there has been a marked increase in people having access to toilets—as 57 per cent households without a latrine in 2014 had one by 2018.

It says that compared to a similar study in 2014, when 70 per cent of the people (over two years old) defecated in open, only 44 per cent continued with the practice in 2018 in the four north Indian states.

As part of the latest study, surveys were conducted between September 2018 and December 2018, and data was collected on 9,812 people, while 156 local government officials were interviewed.

It sheds light on the progress made since the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and the changes in open defecation practices since 2014. A major highlight of the latest study is that researchers revisited families who were part of the 2014 study.

They found that the funds released and utilised for construction of toilets varied across states. While in Bihar, only 19 per cent received money or supplies from the government in the past four years to build a toilet, 53 per cent received the same in Madhya Pradesh; 46 per cent in Rajasthan; and 43 per cent in Uttar Pradesh.

Construction of toilets also varied depending on whether households constructed toilets themselves or received them from contractors organised by local government officials.

In Rajasthan, only 2 per cent of households received a toilet built by contractors, while in Madhya Pradesh 25 per cent households received the same. In Uttar Pradesh, this figure was 16 per cent, and in Bihar it was 9 per cent.

The study found that people in households that received money to build their own toilet, rather than a government-constructed one, were 10 per cent less likely to defecate in the open.

The study noted that over half of the respondents had heard of coercion in their village—people being stopped from defecating in the open, fined and threatened with withdrawal from government benefits.

Among households that own a toilet, Dalits were over twice as likely to experience some form of coercion, while those from the Scheduled Tribes were almost three times as likely to experience the same.

The study, however, concludes that open defecation declined more rapidly over the past four years than it did before SBM was launched.

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